By Chioma Gabriel, Deputy Editor
Honourable Habeeb Fashiro is a three-time member of the House of Representatives representing Eti-Osa Federal Constituency in Lagos State on the platform of Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN .

He is the Chairman of Legislative Budget and Research Committee. In this encounter, he dismisses the Electoral Act amendment debate as a PDP affair because according to him, PDP as a party is different from the others and does not consult its members in the House and that according to him is the cause of the problem.

What’s the agenda behind this desire by the National Assembly to amend the electoral act shortly after the President’s bill on a  similar issue was thrown out?

Well, there is no agenda. The issue here which the press has blown out of proportion and misinterpreted to mean order of first refusal is a PDP matter. What is basically going on is that PDP members in the House of Reps are having problems with their party. I am an ACN member. This thing that is happening now never happened in 2003.

It never happened in 2007. But what is happening now is a reaction by PDP members who are majority in the House; to the treatment they have been receiving from their party. Unlike ACN which recognises and gives respect to all elected members no matter their status, PDP is obviously not doing the same. In ACN, once you are an elected member, whether you are a councillor, local government chairman, House of Assembly or whatever at the national level, your opinion will always count on issues that affect the party.

You are consulted but that is obviously not the case in PDP and that is why the members who are in the National Assembly are reacting in that manner.

There are several things that need not to be included in the electoral act because those things should be included in the functions of running the political parties. But one thing one should appreciate is that because of the manner in which PDP members are being treated; we who are non-members of the PDP know that we are stakeholders in our parties and are being treated as such. But they need to be able to state categorically that they are stakeholders of  their party and should be involved in expressing their views in matters of moving the party forward. And the only way they can achieve that is through being members of their NEC of  their party.

Are you saying ACN members in the House are already members of the NEC of their party?

Well, we have certain members who are members of the NEC of ACN. If you have a leader in the House who you have chosen to represent you there, then, your views will be carried there. But what I am saying is that even though  we are not members of NEC, we are consulted in most of the things that are going on in our party as members. It might not be in a formal setting but our comments and contributions are taken into account.

But this issue of the moment aspires to make  members of the House of Reps automatic members of the NEC of  their party. That also means making the Reps  dominate the decision-making  of their  parties.

You have to understand something. That one is a member of  NEC does not mean that he is the final arbiter in any decision-making in your party. It doesn’t mean that.

In democracy, majority carries the vote.

No. In a democracy, the minority opinion might be seen as more plausible or logical than the majority opinion. In the House of Reps, the ACN which I belong to is in minority. But there are certain things that might crop up and depending on the argument we project, the majority members of the House will buy our line of argument. We might be minority but we contribute immensely.

What I am trying to say is that this electoral act issue in the House is a reaction by PDP members.

The national publicity secretaries of both ACN and ANPP have reacted to this development and this means the parties are taking it serious.

That is what I told you. My party does not agree with it. It is a PDP affair, not a national assembly affair as is being projected.

The President wanted an amendment in the electoral act which was thrown away few weeks ago. Why would an amendment issue crop up again?

Let me explain something. That something came up for discussion and was thrown away does not mean an end of it. Legislature is an arm of government. Anybody who wants an amendment has the right to sponsor an amendment in the act as a House member. If an outsider has something he thinks could be added or addressed, he could walk up to a Rep and present the matter.

If I as a Rep buys the argument, I can sponsor it and I can go through the same process to put it up for debate on the floor of the House. It is for my colleagues to agree with me or not. Here, if majority of my colleagues accept the bill to go through, that is it. Don’t think that because the President brought something ,it should be embraced by all.

No. That is the fallacy of the ruling party. You did not discuss this with the legislators. You just brought it up and you expect them to pass the amendment that you require. No. It does not happen that way. And that is part of the amendment that is going on. We don’t necessarily have to accede to what the executive wants.

This is part of the complexity that is going on.

Before this issue of electoral act amendment came up, there was a pending issue on constitution amendment and the president’s assent. Should the President assent to the amended constitution or not? That controversy is gaining ground and could affect elections next year.

We will hold elections next your. We should not be afraid of  the veracity of issues like that. It is through challenges like this that our laws and law-making can progress. If you always shy away from challenges, we can get stuck.

I remember there was a time that Atiku had issues with Obasanjo. You don’t just say, this is too much and then abandon an issue that comes up. He had a strong conviction and he followed up the challenge and he won in every stage. We should take this as a challenge and we should not let a constitutional issue of whether the President should assent the amended constitution or not affect democracy.

We should hold our elections despite these issues.

So, what becomes of the constitution and the electoral act?

A lot of us have different views but if you look at it, the issue is simple. An amendment to the Constitution requires a bill which becomes an act of the national assembly and that is the only way   you can amend a constitution and that follows a process. Now, for any bill to become an act, it must be signed by the president.

That is the easiest explanation. However, some people believe because it has gone through a process and it is not explicit that the President must sign, then he doesn’t have to. That is the belief of some people and that is because the process is clear. Well, the issue has been dragged to a court of  law. I don’t know why it is taking so long.

The issue is no longer in the hands of the national assembly but has gone to the highest adjudicating court which is the Supreme Court. I don’t know what is holding it.

Now, what is it with the electoral act?

Which one? Like I said, amendment can come in anytime. We don’t need a public hearing to effect changes in the electoral act. Changes can come at any time. There is no need to make an issue out of it.

You don’t think it would affect INEC’s  conduct of elections?

It will not. We will have an election and nothing will hinder it.

Disclaimer

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